That’s just one of many nuggets of EHS history uncovered by two students examining how landmark historical events affected Episcopal, its students, and its alumni. Jerry Chen ’19 examined how World War I brought a patriotic fervor and military regimen to campus, while Claire Boehm ’20 studied the School’s 1990 decision to admit girls after a century of debate nationally on the education of women.
Both students are taking an advanced history course with teacher Mike Reynolds and presented their work — with primary sources, analysis, timelines, and photos — online, the second year that EHS students have turned their history research into public digital exhibits: “Episcopal in the Great War,” and “Women’s Education in the United States.”
A Little-Known War
Jerry chose to study World War I in part because this year marks the centennial of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles that ended the conflict. “It’s a war that we don’t talk as much about because we don’t know as much about it,” he told classmates during a presentation of his work last week.
Jerry first studied Episcopal during the run-up to America’s entry into World War I in 1917. He conducted much of his research in the Bryan Library archives, poring over school files, student scrapbooks, copies of The Chronicle and Whispers, and more. He found that news of the war’s outbreak in July 1914 was overshadowed on campus by the death that summer of Launcelot Minor Blackford, who had served as headmaster for 43 years before his retirement in 1913.
Over time, however, the School began to see its role as preparing their charges for the battlefield, with remarks by faculty and visiting scholars wrapping the conflict in patriotic terms. The School introduced formal military training in the spring of 1916, with daily drilling eventually cutting into practice time for sports and featuring government-issued Springfield rifles.
More than 400 EHS students, faculty, and alumni fought in the war. Jerry found that they served on battlefronts across the world and created an interactive map documenting various postings for EHS-connected soldiers. “Although most of the action took place in Europe, it was a world war,” he said. “I wanted to show that it wasn’t just happening in the muddy trenches of the Western Front but also at Gallipoli and in the Middle East and Siberia.”
The Old Boys Welcome Girls
Claire began her work with a deep analysis of how opinions about educating women changed over a century. In her research, she found at least one expert, Harvard physician Dr. Edward Clark, who warned in 1873 that educating women could damage their reproductive capabilities.
Single-sex education was later embraced, and women’s colleges began to spring up. Still, many of the biggest, most competitive schools remained all male into second half of the 20th century, when, Claire found, scientists began to find that coeducation benefitted women in college but also beyond.
“When women are educated in the same environment as men, and then go out into the real world,” Claire told classmates, “they’re much more comfortable expressing themselves and asserting themselves because they’ve been doing it in their educational careers.”
Turning to Episcopal, Claire traced how the School studied the issue of coeducation for several years before trustees voted in January 1990 to admit women, with the first female students enrolling in the fall of 1991. Among the archive documents she used were Headmaster Sandy Ainslie’s letter to alumni announcing the decision — which included his edits — and his speech to the student body.
Reaction to the decision was decidedly mixed, she says. “There were a lot of comments about the beauty of the 'boys on The Hill' that people were afraid would be lost by enrolling girls,” she said.
Other students in the class researched topics such as Asians in film and the history of jazz in mainstream America. Reynolds and colleague Caroline English have been increasingly teaching students how to present research and primary sources online, thanks to support from the Lee Sanford Ainslie, Jr. ’56 Fellows Mastership Program.